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Identity Crisis Essay

1010 words - 5 pages

Identity, from Latin identitas (“sameness”), can be defined and understood in multiple ways in different contexts. However, regardless of the definition used, the general concept of identity always concerns a relation or relative state between things or people. This holds true in different contexts where the term “identity” is used as well: mathematics, philosophy, psychology, etc. The existential nature of defining identity may lead to many issues in the perception of oneself and of others as the relative properties of identity are always changing and shifting – an identity crisis. It is this exact property of identity that Rebecca Walker chronicles in her memoir Black, White, and Jewish; ...view middle of the document...

In reading Walker’s experiences, a reviewer may be inclined to believe that he or she may have acted differently, or criticize Walker for not taking advantage of her unique, multicultural background to further the contemporaneous Civil Rights Movement. However, this is largely the result of many cognitive biases. Criticisms such as Ralina Joseph’s “Performing the Twenty-first Century Tragic Mulatto” highlight these biases and the effect they have on the reviewer’s own perception of Walker as an individual, despite only having all but a brief insight into the author’s life as presented and chronicled in the book.
Other critics, such as Julius Lester, see an incongruence with Walker’s use of the term “autobiography” in the title of her memoir as he believes Walker lacks sufficient understanding of herself (Lester 2003). Though a valid criticism, this perceived lack of self-insight arises when reading Walker’s experiences episodically instead of considering the entire work and the overarching theme of the “shifting self” as Walker is forced to develop and mature. In their reviews and criticisms, both Lester and Joseph focus on the dissonance between what Walker writes and what she attempts, in reviewers’ minds, to portray herself to be. This is an important aspect in relational identity in that there exists a relationship between reader and author. Objective criticisms of a literary work are nearly impossible for this exact reason. Though the title of Walker’s memoir explicitly states the “shifting self” theme and Walker’s unabashedly upfront embrace of her ability to shift, many readers find fault with the seemingly apparent immaturity Walker displays in her writings. However, this same ability to perceive social cues, to change one’s behavior to match cultural norms and mores, is indicative of a greatly advanced stage of psychological development and social competence. The main issue many readers might have regarding this may arise from Walker’s lack of “sugarcoating” when writing of her experiences and her methods of changing identity – her exploitation of the relativism between self and...

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